WNBA End-of-the-Year Awards

With the serious awards already handed out, here are the fun ones you’ve been waiting for.

By Elisha Gunaratnam

The WNBA season wrapped up about a month ago, so we thought it was time to take a look back. We’re handing out some end-of-the-year awards and reminiscing on a historic year that saw several legends retire, a team win its first championship, attendance records shattered, and viewership numbers climb through the roof. 

Team Wilson’s Sylvia Fowles, second from left, celebrates with Sabrina Ionescu, left, Candace Parker, right, and A’ja Wilson after dunking against Team Stewart during the first half of a WNBA All-Star basketball game in Chicago, Sunday, July 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Best Fans: Atlanta Dream

While the Seattle Storm had the best attendance this season with thousands of basketball fans lining up to catch one last glimpse of Sue Bird in Climate Pledge Arena, Atlanta fans brought some serious energy to Gateway Center Arena. The Dream sold out a franchise record eight (!) games. Celebrities regularly made courtside appearances, and everyone in attendance looked like they were having fun regardless of where they were seated. The organization might want to start looking for a bigger arena to play in as the team averaged over 80% capacity attendance in all of their home games this season. 

Best Celebration: The “Night-Night” Celebration

The question of who brought the famous “night-night” celebration to the WNBA might be up for debate, but there’s no doubt that it has taken over the league this year. Sabrina Ionescu pulled it out after hitting a Curry-esque three-pointer from the logo against the Dream on June 24. The next day, Skylar Diggins-Smith rested her head on her hands after hitting a dagger three, too, this time against the Dallas Wings. Several players on the Connecticut Sun have pulled out the move as well, so it’s safe to say that it has become a pretty popular way to make your opponent feel just a little bit worse after you hit a shot over them. 

Best Assist: Marine Johannès (New York vs. Chicago)

From Chelsea Gray’s wild inbound pass to Gabby Williams’ behind-the-back dishes, there were so many incredible assists this season. The award for best assist still has to go to Marine Johannès, particularly given the stakes of the game in which she recorded that assist (Game 1 of the Playoffs against the Chicago Sky). Johannès’ no-look, behind-the-head laser beam of a pass is the kind of dish that would probably be impressive if she pulled it off during a practice, so it was all the more extraordinary that she managed to dish out such an accurate pass against the 2021 WNBA Champions.

Best Live Tweeter: Natasha Cloud (Washington Mystics)

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a lot of athletes out of action over the past couple of years, but some WNBA players decided to make the most of their time in isolation when they were sidelined due to health and safety protocols this season. Natasha Cloud had to miss the Mystics’ first matchup against the Aces this season, and we’re partially convinced that her tweeting powers are what spurred Washington to an incredible come-from-behind win against the eventual WNBA Champions. 

Some of Cloud’s live tweets during the game (from @T_Cloud on Twitter)

Funniest Jump Ball: Sue and Dee

It was an absolute treat to be able to watch these two legends play against each other for the final time this season. Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi have won five gold medals together, but they always make sure to keep things interesting when they find themselves on opposite sides of the court. 

Things got a little testy between the two of them on May 14 when Bird attempted a steal and locked up Taurasi, resulting in a jump ball. Bird had a mic on during the contest, and it picked up an argument between the friends as they disagreed over who had the ball. Taurasi spoke about the moment after the game: “I was like ‘This is going to be the worst jump ball ever and if I lose this I’m done!’, I would die.”  Taurasi did end up winning the jump ball, so thankfully we only had to say goodbye to one member of the greatest duo at the end of the season.

Most Surprising Win: Indiana Fever vs. Chicago Sky

The Indiana Fever had a challenging season that saw them come away with only five wins, but they certainly made sure to make those victories memorable. Indiana was down 50–37 against the Chicago Sky at halftime on June 19, and it looked like the game was over. However, they went on to score a season-high 35 points during the third quarter which helped propel them to an 89–87 win. The Sky were not expecting that, and neither was the rest of the WNBA. It was the Fever’s final victory of the season.

NaLyssa Smith brought out a career performance for the upset, finishing the game with 26 points and 11 rebounds, and recording her fourth career double-double.

Best Pre-Game Routine: Awak Kuier Dunks

Everybody loves a good dunk to get the crowd warmed up, and Air Awak taking off in front of her teammates is worth coming to games early for. Kuier managed to throw a dunk down during a Wings game this year, and it wouldn’t surprise us if we see more in-game dunks from her in the future.

Most Memorable Celebrity Interaction: Kelsey Plum and Tom Brady

It’s no secret that Kelsey Plum is a huge fan of Tom Brady, but we don’t think that anyone (including Plum’s teammates) was expecting her to bark when she met her hero. Plum claims that she wanted Brady to remember her, and to give her credit, her barking introduction along with her WNBA All-Star Game MVP Award, WNBA Championship, and World Cup title probably made her one of the more memorable athletes that Brady has encountered this year.

Best Surprise: Sylvia Fowles’ Dunk

All-Star Games are always magical, but when Sylvia Fowles broke away and dunked in what was to be her final All-Star Game, the building erupted. Her teammates were hyped. Rookie Rhyne Howard thought that the Fowles dunk was basically a mic drop. “She should have just walked off the court honestly and was like bam, like that’s it, dunk,” she said. Even the opposing bench jumped for joy.

Sylvia Fowles announcing that she wanted to be a mortician after she retired could also probably fall under this category depending on how you feel about working with dead people. Either way, Fowles never failed to surprise in her final season.

Best Comeback: Napheesa Collier

Just 10 weeks after giving birth to her daughter, Napheesa Collier rejoined her team on the court on August 7. Collier made it her mission to play alongside WNBA legend Sylvia Fowles. Fowles said she fought back against Collier’s plans for a speedy return out of fear that “it was unsafe” for the new mom to rush her recovery, but in the end, it was Collier who won the argument. 

“I came here with the goal of playing with them again — and especially Syl,” Collier said after her return to the court. “I’ve made that no secret, so it felt so good to be on the court at the same time as her for this last season.”

Best Turnaround: Chelsea Gray

Chelsea Gray is a phenomenal basketball player. It was a surprise to many fans when she was not selected to be an All Star this year. However, having that weekend off seemed to have lit some sort of fire under Gray. This was particularly noticeable during the postseason. Over ten playoff appearances, she averaged 21.7 points per game and seven assists per game on 72% true shooting. The Point God scored or assisted on 379 of Las Vegas’ points, the most in WNBA playoff history. Gray shot 54.4% from deep and 65.5%  from inside the arc. 

She might have been overlooked in the first half of the season, but Chelsea Gray now has what matters most: a WNBA Championship and a Finals MVP Award. We wouldn’t be doing Gray’s incredible year justice if we didn’t mention the fact that she got on a plane immediately afterward and won a World Cup on top of it all. What a season.

Most Likely to Have a Reality TV Show: The Las Vegas Aces

Between the squad taking on the tortilla challenge, Becky Hammon dancing in the locker room with her players, Kelsey Plum recruiting Dearica Hamby’s daughter to pull off epic pranks, and Sydney Colson never getting off of Instagram Live, we’re not quite sure why no one has offered the Las Vegas Aces the opportunity to be featured on a reality TV show.

One of the Aces’ top moments of the year came after Kelsey Plum was presented with a comically tiny MVP trophy during the WNBA All-Star Game. Aces forward Theresa Plaisance pretended to be Commissioner Engelbert, while fellow All Star Dearica Hamby did her best impression of Kelsey Plum. Plaisance then announced to the room that “the prestigious MVP award goes to Kelsey Plum!” and delicately bestowed a GoGo squeeZ applesauce pouch upon Hamby.

The team looked like it had so much fun over the course of its historic championship run, and we’re willing to bet that people would pay good money to see them be the feature of a television series. 

There were so many memorable moments from the WNBA this year that it was difficult to pick which ones to highlight. We might just have to make a second list before the start of the next season.

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